How to raise children who are 'The Opposite of Spoiled'

'The Opposite of Spoiled'
'The Opposite of Spoiled' by Ron Lieber
Courtesy of HarperCollins

Ron Lieber, the "Your Money" columnist for The New York Times, is used to talking cold hard cash.

Bring kids into the mix, and you've got his new book: "The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money."

"Why is it so hard to talk about money with kids?" Lieber asks. Many reasons: Some parents say kids are too young to understand, others hold onto etiquette notions that talking about money is rude. Still others want to "protect" their children from the adult worries that accompany money.

But talking about money early and often with children can be the best way to instill not only financial awareness but a work ethic as well.

There's no one right way to do this, of course, and Lieber's author's note says it all: "This book is intended to start conversations about money in our families, schools and communities. But it's meant to be only the first word, not the last tone."

Lieber joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to discuss children, money and children with money.

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From "The Opposite of Spoiled"

Setting an allowance

Many parents exchange cash for chores. If kids mow the lawn, they get their allowance. Lieber, however, argues that allowance should stand alone. Chores should be done because they need to be done — allowance is a separate tool for teaching children about finance.

Lieber has his own daughter divide her allowance into three jars: spend, give and save. "Spend" is for whatever his daughter wants immediately, "give" goes toward a charity of her choice like the zoo or the local children's museum and "save" is for an agreed-upon goal.

"This is, in effect, a first budget," Lieber wrote. It's also a constant learning opportunity. "After all, how can we teach them to control their impulses until we observe them under real-world conditions with actual green cash?"

Undercutting the Tooth Fairy

Lieber cites a Delta Dental poll about the Tooth Fairy's ever-deepening pockets. The dental insurance company has tracked the rising price of teeth since 1998.

The most recent numbers say the Tooth Fairy is shelling out $3.49 for the first lost tooth, and an average of $2.42 for every one after that. "That's up 15 percent from the previous year," Lieber wrote.

What's the solution to the sky-high molar market? Some parents are trying to emphasize the magic over the monetary — leaving small knick-knacks or coins from other currencies as a surprise for the newly-toothless child.

Putting kids to work

Kids like to work. That's Lieber's thesis: Children have a natural-born industriousness. But how best to handle that?

Employment numbers for American kids are at an all-time low. Lieber lays out the statistics: In 1998, about 45 percent of American children aged 16 to 19 were employed in some capacity, a number that had stayed steady for half a century. By 2013, however, the number had dropped to just 20 percent, the lowest it had been since 1948, when the U.S. started keeping records.

The economy played a role in this shift: Many jobs in restaurants and retail that were once commonly held by teens are now filled by adults. Others blame the shift on the increasing pressure of the college application process. Parents encourage their kids to pick up another extracurricular rather than a part-time job. But the economy is shifting once again and college admission officers see merit in more than just Math Club.

Lieber heads back to kids' earliest days to offer advice on instilling a work ethic: "Better chores, more of them and sooner."